Saturday, February 28, 2015

Review: Caffe Bene


While it's not the nicest way to start a blog post, I have to be honest here: I've had some pretty bad coffee shop experiences. Between Starbucks' obnoxiously large (and noxiously sugary) concoctions, Dunkin's inhospitable seating, and the all-out snobbery I've experienced at independent coffee shops, I was pretty much turned off the entire concept. A small drip coffee shouldn't cost $5.00!! It just shouldn't! I don't care if it's brewed at some exotic location, on top of the world's most perfect mountain, fertilized by poop from a golden camel. I have to admit, it doesn't taste any different to me...

But I still love coffee shops, so I sucked it up and kept paying too much for tiny coffees and braving less than cozy seating areas. This all changed last month when I discovered Korean coffee shops. Since I live in an area that is predominately Chinese and Korean, I wanted to kick myself for not checking them out sooner.

My favorite is one right by my apartment, but Caffe Bene is a chain with locations around New York City, so it's super convenient. There's a large one on 39th and Union in downtown Flushing, and while I'll stick with my favorite shop while in Flushing, this will be my new go to when I'm out and about.

Environment:

  • There's tons of seating divided up mostly into 4-person tables with comfy chairs. The tables are separated by little dividers to give everyone their own space. There's a separate space off the back blocked off by a glass wall that is silent. I like that they separate the social space from the workspace. 
  • The chairs are really cushiony and comfortable, and the tables are clean, and nicely sized. The whole aesthetic is simple and natural. Chairs are rattan covered, tables are wood, and the walls are exposed brick and covered with shelving. It gives the whole place a cozy bookshop or library feel. Really nice place to work in.
  • The customers are mostly college kids and women in their 20s and 30s chatting in the social area. A few single 20-somethings working in the back area.
  • Don't come for the wifi. It's a beast to connect to, and so slow it's almost useless once you are connected. The seating area was about 70% full while I was there, and I only spotted 5 other computers and tablets being used.
  • There are very few outlets. They're also located away from the individual tables, so you have to sit at one of the 8-person tables to use them :(



Food:

  • To be honest, this actually started as an Aztec Dark Chocolate review ;) I'm a card-carrying member of the hot chocolate haters club. I LOVE chocolate bars, chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake -all of it. But for some reason, once it's melted and in a cup it turns me off. I think it's the combination of warm milk (milk is gross; warm milk is grosser) and the sickly sweetness of the milk chocolate. Not so with this. It's so dark and rich, the cashier warned me about it before I purchased it. It lived up to expectations: unsweetened cocoa melted in warm milk. It was thick, creamy, and indulgent with all the goodness of chocolate, and none of the things I dislike about hot chocolate. The only downside? A small (pictured) is $5.50. (!!!!!!) Granted, it's so rich a small is enough.
  • I'm not able to sample most of the rest of Caffe Bene's menu. They serve savory sandwiches, macarons, cakes, puddings, and other sweet treats. They are most famous for their belgian-style waffles, gelato, and honey bread (thick pieces of Texas toast style bread with delicious looking toppings like banana-walnut). They also have a huge variety of lattes, smoothies, frappes, bubble teas, and other drinks.

Prices:
  • On the whole, the prices are comparable to Starbucks with an important difference: almost all of Caffe Bene's products are imported from Korea. As far as I'm concerned, this justifies a price hike. 
  • I haven't tried enough of their menu to know if it's really worth it, but the premium locations, great seating, and environment factor into the price. After all, you're not just paying for a small hot chocolate: you're paying to spend hours working or socializing in prime real estate, using the wifi, and getting quick access to transportation.

Other:

  • One of Caffe Bene's quirks are the number of signs. There's a sign every two seats or so. They remind patrons that they are being recorded, that seats are only for paying customers, that they need to clean up after themselves.
  • There are CCTV cameras everywhere. I counted four in the vicinity of my table.


Overall, I reccommend Caffe Bene. They make a mean hot chocolate, provide you with a comfy seat to drink it in, and there's not a pretentious barista in sight.

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